BREAD: lechem (Strong’s 3899)
Sounds like: lekhem
There’s something about freshly baked bread… it is warm and inviting and satisfying. When I was an undergrad student at the University of Waterloo I lived in the Mennonite supported student residence, Conrad Grebel College. By reputation it housed the best dining experience on campus. A favourite meal occurred every Wednesday with the College’s Community (Commie) Supper, when our delightful Mennonite cooks baked fresh bread. Any leftovers were given out on Thursday morning for breakfast, (which, as a nocturnal Arts student, was about the only morning I set my alarm to get up early).
In Hebrew the word for bread is lechem. In Genesis 3:17-19 we are told that as a result of the fall humanity would have to rely on food/bread to survive. Kindly YHWH would provide everything needed to prepare food:
He [YHWH] causes the grass to grow for the livestock, and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food [lechem] out of the earth:
Wine [w’yayin] that makes glad the heart of man, oil to make his face to shine, and bread [w’lechem] that strengthens man’s heart.
Although there is a specific Hebrew word for food (okel), lechem is often translated as food:
The people spoke against God and Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food (bread) [lechem] and no water, and we loathe this miserable food (bread) [ba-lechem].”
Perhaps the greatest complaint of the Hebrew people, while they wandered in the desert, was food. God had provided manna for His people, but only after they felt hunger:
“You shall remember all the way which YHWH your God has led you in the wilderness these forty years, that He might humble you, testing you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. He humbled you and let you be hungry, and fed you with manna which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you understand that man does not live by the bread [ha-lechem] alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of YHWH.
Manna was simple food, a basic necessity. It was not decadent or particularly delicious but it sustained them and it was to help them realize that truly surviving did not mean consuming edibles, it meant relying on YHWH and all the promises that He made.
Manna has long been considered a special kind of heavenly bread. Many translations indicate that it was some form of angel food:
Yet He commanded the clouds above and opened the doors of heaven;
He rained down manna upon them to eat and gave them food from heaven.
Man did eat the bread of angels (mighty/strong ones) [lechem abbirim];
He sent them food in abundance.
This passage is often translated as bread of angels, but the Hebrew word for angel, malak, is not found in the text. Rather, it is lechem abbirim, meaning bread of the mighty ones or bread of the strong ones. It was food for bulking up and it was shared with them in abundance. It might not be 4-star dining, but they wouldn’t starve!
Bread to the Hungry
God gave bread as nourishment. This comes in forms of physical bread and spiritual bread. YHWH made it clear that He was the Great Provider and that as a follower of YHWH we should be concerned with the welfare of humanity.
How blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in YHWH his God,
Who made heaven and earth, the sea and all that is in them;
Who keeps faith forever; who executes justice for the oppressed;
Who gives food (bread) [lechem] to the hungry.
YHWH sets the prisoners free.
YHWH opens the eyes of the blind; YHWH raises up those who are bowed down;
YHWH loves the righteous; YHWH protects the strangers;
He supports the fatherless and the widow, but He thwarts the way of the wicked.
YHWH will reign forever, your God, O Zion, to all generations.
Serving bread… with leftovers!
A common theme in the Bible, when one served bread, was leftovers.
At mealtime Boaz said to her, “Come here, that you may eat of the bread [ha’lechem] and dip your piece [of the bread] in the vinegar.” So she sat beside the reapers; and he served her roasted grain, and she ate and was satisfied and had some left.
God provided so much that there was not enough people to consume all of God’s provisions. Before the story of Jesus feeding the masses with a few fish and loaves, the Old Testament told a similar story during the life of the prophet Elisha:
2 Kings 4:42-44
Now a man came from Baal-shalishah, and brought the man of God [Elisha] bread of the first fruits [lechem bikurim], twenty loaves of barley [lechem s’orim] and fresh ears of grain in his sack. And he said, “Give them to the people that they may eat.” His attendant said, “What, will I set this before a hundred men?” But he said, “Give them to the people that they may eat, for thus says YHWH, ‘They shall eat and have some left over.’” So he set it before them, and they ate and had some left over, according to the word of YHWH.
Jesus orchestrated very similar events during his lifetime:
Now the Jewish Feast of the Passover was near. When Jesus looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward Him, He said to Philip, “Where can we buy bread for these people to eat?” But He was asking this to test him, for He knew what He was about to do.
Philip answered, “Two hundred denarii would not buy enough bread for each of them to have a small piece.”
One of His disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to Him, “Here is a boy with five barley loaves and two small fish. But what difference will these make among so many?”
“Have the people sit down,” Jesus said. Now there was plenty of grass in that place, so the men sat down, about five thousand of them.
Then Jesus took the loaves and the fish, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted.
And when everyone was full, He said to His disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over, so that nothing will be wasted.”
So they collected them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten.
When the people saw the sign that Jesus had performed, they began to say, “Truly this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.”
Feeding the hoardes with barley loaves may have prompt many to believe that Jesus was the prophet Elisha returned from the grave. The Jewish people knew their Hebrew Bible, and at witnessing this miracle their brains would have immediately hyperlinked (pardon the modern lingo) to the story of Elisha feeding a few barley loaves to many people.
But Jesus (Yeshua) wasn’t Elisha, or Elijah, or any of the previous prophets. He was much more than that. He fed everyone so that they were full and then gathered the left overs so nothing would be wasted. Out of five barley loaves, they filled 12 baskets of left-overs. If this was the bread of life, there was an abundance to be shared! There was bread enough for those who came into contact with Jesus and those who hadn’t. Long after Jesus left town, the people would continue to be fed.
Jesus was living out his mission to feed, not only the spiritually hungry, but the physically hungry as well. Sometimes his own disciples, nomadic co-travelers, felt hungry, and Jesus made sure they were provided for:
At that time Jesus went through the grain-fields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick the heads of grain and eat them. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to Him, “Look, Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.”
Jesus replied, “Have you not read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread, which was not lawful for them to eat, but only for the priests.
Or haven’t you read in the Law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple break the Sabbath and yet are innocent? But I tell you that something greater than the temple is here.
If only you had known the meaning of ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”
The story of David that Jesus referred to was when David and his companions were fleeing Saul, who had decided that David was his enemy. David, as God’s chosen future king of Israel made up a story to tell Ahimelech the priest in order to gain food. But the only food available was the consecrated bread, know as the Bread of His Presence or a more accurate translation would be the Bread of His Face:
1 Samuel 21:1-6
Then David came to Nob to Ahimelech the priest; and Ahimelech came trembling to meet David and said to him, “Why are you alone and no one with you?” David said to Ahimelech the priest, “The king has commissioned me with a matter and has said to me, ‘Let no one know anything about the matter on which I am sending you and with which I have commissioned you; and I have directed the young men to a certain place.’ “Now therefore, what do you have on hand? Give me five loaves of bread [lechem], or whatever can be found.” The priest answered David and said, “There is no ordinary bread [lechem] on hand, but there is consecrated bread [lechem kodesh]; if only the young men have kept themselves from women.” David answered the priest and said to him, “Surely women have been kept from us as previously when I set out and the vessels of the young men were holy, though it was an ordinary journey; how much more then today will their vessels be holy?” So the priest gave him consecrated (bread) [kodesh]; for there was no bread [lechem] there but the bread of the Presence [lechem ha-panim] which was removed from before YHWH, in order to put hot bread [lechem howm] in its place when it was taken away.
The Priest wisely chose to help the hungry, rather than stubbornly hold onto traditions, rules and regulations. Jesus compared this story to the Pharisees stubborn resolve to keep the Sabbath, no matter the cost to human suffering. Jesus rightly pointed out that YHWH cares more for mercy than sacrifice.
Bread of the Presence/Face
The Bread of the Presence was a key part of Temple life. It was the consecrated bread that sat in the heart of the Temple:
2 Chronicles 4:19
Solomon also made all the things that were in the house of God: even the golden altar, the tables with the bread of the Presence [lechem ha-panim] on them…
This bread, although sacred, was never to become more important than the welfare of God’s own people. Life, created by YHWH, is always more important than any man-made sacred object. When a man made object is considered more important than a living being, it is idol worship. David put his peoples welfare above a static offering to God, and God saw that it was good. The Bread of His Face was meant to be a reflection of God Himself, and He has made it clear that we are to feed the hungry. What bread would be better to feed the hungry with, than the Bread of His Presence/Face:
“Is this not the fast which I choose, to loosen the bonds of wickedness, to undo the bands of the yoke, and to let the oppressed go free and break every yoke?
Is it not to divide your bread [lach’meka] with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into the house;
When you see the naked, to cover him; and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
Then your light will break out like the dawn, and your recovery will speedily spring forth;
And your righteousness will go before you; the glory of YHWH will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and YHWH will answer;
You will cry, and He will say, ‘Here I am.’
By feeding the hungry we are bringing the Presence of God (or the Bread of His Face) to the situation. He stands among us when we do His will, and we can boldly claim that He is here, among us.
After the fall of the Temple, the Bread of His Presence fell by the wayside. There was no Tabernacle; there was no Table for the consecrated bread to sit upon. It seemed that, much like the Bread of His Presence, the actual presence of YHWH had disappeared. But that was not the case.
In Exile, many of the Hebrew people held on tightly to their traditions, and that included Passover. The Passover meal and the Feast of Unleavened Bread not only survived the Exile, but flourished under it. Hundreds of years after the Exile it remained in constant practise… all the way to Jesus, and continuing on today. It was during Passover week that Jesus shared his Last Supper with his closest friends, his disciples:
Bread and Wine
While they were eating, Jesus took some bread, and after a blessing, He broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.” And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins. But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom.” After singing a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.
This was a significant moment in history. Passover celebrated the Hebrew people’s redemption from slavery. Jesus (Yeshua) claimed to be the new Passover meal. His broken body was the bread that nourished us and redeemed us. His death would set us free!
Bread of Life
However, long before the Last Supper, Jesus spoke about being the Bread of Life and fulfilling spiritual hunger:
John 6:26-36, 47-51
Jesus answered them and said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled. Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you, for on Him the Father, God, has set His seal.”
Therefore they said to Him, “What shall we do, so that we may work the works of God?” Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.”
So they said to Him, “What then do You do for a sign, so that we may see, and believe You? What work do You perform? Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written ‘He gave them bread out of heaven to eat.’”
Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread out of heaven, but it is My Father who gives you the true bread out of heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down out of heaven, and gives life to the world.” Then they said to Him, “Lord, always give us this bread.”
Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst. “But I said to you that you have seen Me, and yet do not believe”…
…“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread which comes down out of heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh.”
Jesus (Yeshua) is the manna that came from heaven to nourish us and save us. It’s most fitting that Jesus, who claimed to be the Bread of Life, was born in Bethlehem (bet’lechem), meaning House of Bread.
Bethlehem (House of Bread)
The Biblical matriarch Rachel, (whose name meant ewe or lamb), died a sacrificial death, on the outskirts of Bethlehem, giving birth to a son. Moments before she died she named the tiny infant Benoni (son of my sorrow). After her passing her husband Jacob renamed him Benjamin (son of my right hand) [Genesis 35:18]. YHWH could say the same about Jesus… he was the Son of His Sorrow and the Son at His Right Hand.
Later Bethlehem would be the location of the cross-cultural wedding of Boaz (a Jew) and Ruth (a Moabite), grandparents to King David, and ancestors of Yeshua.
Their great grandson, David, was a simple sheep-herder. He was born in Bethlehem and would become Israel’s greatest king… until his descendant, Yeshua (Jesus), turned kingship on its head and became the Servant Shepherd, King of all Nations.
Jesus (Yeshua) was born in the House of Bread and he died in Jerusalem, meaning the Place of Peace. Although Jerusalem hardly seems peaceful today, the Hebrew understanding of peace means wholeness or completeness. Jesus was born in the House of Bread to become the Bread of Life, and he completed his mission to become the Saviour to all nations in the City of Completion. He is the bread that feeds us, sustains us, and completes us… so we can be the humans we were meant to be: images of the Creator and feeders to the physically and spiritually hungry.
Next week: Wine